The historian Manuel Pérez Lorenzo these days compares the old photos that were taken in the Torres de Meirás in Emilia Pardo Bazán’s life with the inventory of what the Franco family has left behind, forced to abandon it. There are his family and friends having a picnic, cooling off in the pond or at busy social parties. Also of her supervising the construction, sitting in her office on the ground floor or looking out over the Balcón de las Muses, next to the table and chair where she wrote her works, at the top of the Tower of La Chimera, which she ordered to be raised inspired in those of the medieval castles tribute. Portraits without a figure have also appeared, in which the protagonists are simply the furniture: the decoration that existed before the pazo was handed over to Francisco Franco in 1938 by a court of high-ranking officials of the regime in A Coruña. Quite a few of these objects survive in the place, most of them misplaced and many deteriorated, just one century after the author’s death. The mission is to avoid losing control over them. “As soon as they walk out the door” in the Franco family’s move, which was about to begin a week ago and is now stopped by court order, “they will be out of context and lose their value and protection,” warns Pérez Lorenzo.
The specialist, author together with Carlos Babío of the book Meirás, a pazo, a caudillo, a spoil (Galiza Semper Foundation), is part of the committee of experts, announced in December by the Vice President of the Government Carmen Calvo, which debates the future uses of the Sada palace (A Coruña) as a public space. Meanwhile, Pérez Lorenzo reviews all those graphic documents that speak of the greatness of the pazo before the Civil War, as well as snapshots prior to Franco’s death, to identify, with the current judicial inventory in hand, not only the furniture of the past that endure, but those that have vanished. His is the inventory of the inventory, much more complete because it delves into the origin of the pieces, something that the hasty list of 697 objects that the Xunta technicians made does not do.
Thus, the historian says that he has discovered that paintings, statues and other movable property are missing when the decree of good of cultural interest (BIC) was approved in 2008 and the Franco were obliged by law to open the towers to visitors. One of the absences that draws attention are the five-foot elephant tusks given away during the dictatorship by the governor of the former Spanish Guinea Francisco Macías. “They still appeared in the lobby in photos from 2016,” says researcher Carlos Babío.
When Pardo Bazán’s heirs sold the property to the Pro-Pazo Board in 1938 for 406,346 pesetas, experts argue that the price also included the decoration and all the objects. All, except the books in the writer’s library, which were a personal “gift” to the dictator’s wife, Carmen Polo. After the fire that broke out in Franco’s dining room and bedroom in 1978 and damaged other rooms, the books were donated to the Royal Galician Academy. But many, it is not known why, remained in the pazo. Today, as described by Babío, they are mixed with those of the dictator, disordered and even stored “in the kitchen cupboard.”.
Despite the flagrant absences detected by Pérez Lorenzo in Meirás, the IES professor Isaac Díaz Pardo de Sada has drawn up a list, still incomplete, of the treasures that have persisted since the time of the Pardo Bazán family. The table on which the author had been working since five in the morning in her literature continues in the Torre de Levante (or La Chimera), and was the one used when the judge handed over the keys to the State, on December 10.
The chair in which he sat to write, however, is now in the lobby next to another of the same game, out of place, as is the collection of seats embroidered by the hands of the writer and other relatives, which formed part of the ground floor office. Now, the ones that exist are in the chapel. The showcases and shelves where she organized her books were removed when Franco ordered the tower’s library to be reformed and today they are used for storage, distributed between a corridor and the farm on the estate. The latter have become workshop furniture, according to the historian they are “modified, painted white and in very poor condition.”
Also in the farm the armor with which the son of the writer decorated the stairway of honor were kept, rusted. Matching were panoplies of swords. Everything, with the intention of highlighting with “scenery” a “noble position”. Emilia Pardo Bazán devised Meirás as her space for literary creation, explains the professor, but at the same time she wanted to say “here I have my castle. I am a woman, a writer and a nobleman ”.
Among the goods that arrived before 1938 that Pérez Lorenzo cites are, in the chapel, the tomb that the writer designed for her death and in which she was never buried; the central altarpiece (17th-18th centuries) and one of the sides; most of the images and of the kneelers, a large Christ with natural hair who is described by the novelist in a passage from Chimera and the usual embroidered chairs. The largest, decorated with the effigy of Catherine of Alexandria, was the favorite of Pardo Bazán.
In the hall there remain, as in the life of the original owner of the pazo, two old carvings, a marquetry piece of furniture, a chest and several chairs. In the large living room, two display cabinets with a table. On the ground floor of the Torre de Levante, a portrait of a lady, possibly, according to the scholar, the mother or the aunt of Emilia Pardo Bazán. In the library that Franco made himself in another wing are some of the chairs that the former inhabitant had in her banquet room, and in other corners more tables and pictures that lived with her are identified. “That furniture already came with the house” when it was handed over to Franco, claims Babío, who has been tracking the vicissitudes of the mansion for three decades.
According to him, this should be enough reason for them not to enter into the move that the Francos are planning. “The purchase deed, paid for with the money of all the Galicians who were forced to pay, clearly stated what was being acquired: those towers and all the goods they included.” The furniture, he argues, was therefore part of the entertainment made to the head of state that, according to the two sentences that recognize the public ownership of the mansion, acquired the character of an official residence, as a summer extension of the Palacio del Pardo.
Both Babío and Pérez Lorenzo are part of the Defende Meirás Initiative, the citizen platform that has just been created with the mission of “preventing the Francos from continuing with the robbery”, and that the pazo continue to constitute, in the words of the former, “almost nine hectares of fascist impunity ”that remain in Spain. The group, which is organizing a demonstration in Sada on June 19, has asked the Xunta this Friday to carry out the agreement reached unanimously in the Galician Parliament to extend the BIC protection of the towers to the assets they contain. “The Xunta has the powers and the catalog made,” says Babío. “With these tools,” he says, he can prevent the dictator’s grandchildren from leaving the pazo empty.